review by myles gibbons
Chilean director Sebastian Lelio remakes his 2013 Spanish language film in English with Julianne Moore in the starring role of Gloria Bell. At times melancholic, but ultimately uplifting, this film tackles aging, faltering relationships, and whether it is better to be alone or in a broken relationship. Gloria’s search for love and meaning, as well as her experience of having most of the significant relationships in her life break down calls to mind some of the more classic coming of age stories, like those of John Hughes (with a bit more relevance to the modern day).
Lelio’s focused direction lifts a well-written but simple script to heights that would be otherwise unachievable under a lesser director. He captures loneliness in a tactile way that flaunts cliche with scenes of Gloria singing alone in the car to ballads from the 80’s. Lelio uses motifs such as this to help us see into Gloria’s mindset and growth throughout the story; such as a scene in which Gloria sings “Alone Again” forlornly under her breath while watching a duet of the song being performed. The scene where Gloria introduces Tuturo’s Arnold (the recently divorced boyfriend of Gloria) to her family and ex-husband is a high point in the film, with awkward pauses and conversations always ending up in the most uncomfortable places. There is also not a single scene in the film where Gloria is absent, which means Gloria Bell relies heavily on Julianne Moore’s performance: and she is more than up to the task.
In every frame of this film, Moore shows her pedigree as we see Gloria struggling in her relationships. The sense that Gloria is really trying to rekindle these relationships and reform her life creates a sense of relatability. Being free of a heady plot, the film has time to focus on character and growth, which is where this picture really shines, resting upon the strength of Moore’s performance. Herbert’s simple, sparingly used score invokes sounds from the 80’s without taking attention away from the film’s characters. Ringtones are used throughout the film to symbolize relationships, like when Gloria and Arnold break up and her ringtone sounds again and again in order to indicate his obsessive stalking.
While the direction of Gloria Bell is great overall there were times when the film dragged. Coming to the end of its second act, the motifs that had been set up and repeated throughout the start of the film began to wear thin. Pacing problems such as this continued from this point with the film only picking up steam again in the final few scenes.
The climax of Gloria Bell is satisfying and well-earned. Throughout the picture we see Gloria struggle to be better and to reform her life, and, although she stumbles, when her moment comes it’s truly uplifting. Despite some problems with pacing, this film is worth your time. With a fantastic performance from Moore, great directing from Lelio, and a current story and themes, I’d certainly recommend catching Gloria Bell.
Gloria Bell is currently screening at the IFI Dublin.